This year an EU grant supported company called ‘ZELP’ (Zero Emissions Livestock Project) is conducting large-scale pilots of its patented wearable device for cattle. Their ‘cow mask’ has been designed by brothers Argentinian Francisco and Patricio Norris to reduce livestock methane (CH₄) emissions.
Fitted over an animal’s snout, the device captures exhaled methane and uses a special catalytic converter to turn it into a combination of carbon dioxide and water vapour. Equipped with sensors, it also collects hundreds of thousands of data points daily to help producers improve yields and animal health, while reducing labour costs.
The mask uses Bluetooth Low Energy to transfer the collected data wirelessly to receptors strategically located around the farm for real-time upload to the cloud. After being analysed by ZELP’s proprietary software for key indicators such as temperature, feeding patterns, rest/activity and potential disease, the data appears for users on a monitoring tool. Big data aggregates data at a herd level, including methane emissions, health information and comparative analyses.
Once deployed commercially, real-time alerts will be triggered for producers to assist animals individually, while maintaining herd health by preventing the spread of disease and reducing the use of antibiotics. To test the climate change mitigation impact of ZELP, methane concentrations were measured inside the respiratory chambers of four different animals, two wearing the prototype and two as a control group.
The preliminary tests show an average 26.5% reduction in methane emissions by animals wearing the device, with a maximum reduction achieved of 32%.
“This puts our solution on a par with the best out there, such as using feed additives to reduce methane. Our goal for the final product is to double this mitigation potential,” asserted Francisco Norris, ZELP co-founder and CEO.
Beyond trialling the sensors and beta testing ZELP’s data-gathering capabilities, the team conducted a number of behavioural trials to ensure animal welfare. The animals were fitted with dummy devices replicating the shape, size and weight of the ZELP wearable device, and were then observed by independent veterinary scientists for fourteen days. Looking at the measurements of key variables, including yields, rumination patterns, feed intake and rest/activity periods, trials showed that the device had no discernible negative impact.
Livestock methane emissions
Methane exhaled by some 1.6 billion cattle globally is one of the greatest contributors to global warming: one cow generates up to 500 litres of CH₄ daily, according to research published in the Journal of Animal Science. As atmospheric CH₄ traps 85 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, this accounts for around half of all agricultural emissions and almost 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Livestock methane emissions contribute more to global warming than the entire transport industry combined. Achieving a reduction would be a crucial step towards reaching the climate change goals of 2015’s Paris Agreement.
“Our vision is to become methane mitigation leaders,” concluded Norris. “In our second year after launch, we estimate that ZELP will prevent over 108,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent from reaching the atmosphere. In 5 and 10 years, this would increase to 2 and 18 million respectively.”
The team is conducting large-scale pilots in the UK and Argentina throughout 2020 with plans to launch commercially in 2021 using a smaller device optimised for farms. To offer a market advantage, the intention is also to develop an emission reduction certification for farmers to display on their products.